A ruling that might have to be applied retroactively, given the number of standing violations
Trashigang Dzongkhag Tshogdu: Anyone, who starts construction on agricultural wetland in Trashigang, would now be taken to court, the dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) decided recently.
The decision was taken, following many people still trying to build houses on wetland, and after Shongphu gewog raised the issue of illegal construction.
It was found that over 35 houses have already been constructed on agricultural wetland in Chongthi and Buna villages in Shongphu. Around 26 are huts, while the rest are concrete and traditional mud structures. These constructions on wetland had begun since 1992.
“Many are still starting to build houses on wetland,” Shongphu gup Kinzang Wangdi said. “Most houses were built without proper housing permit from the gewog.”
The defaulters, villagers, however cited lack of dry land or suitable land for them to construct their houses on. Poor soil quality, meagre harvest, lack of irrigation channels, labour shortage and lengthy conversion procedure were some other factors the defaulters reasoned for constructing on wetland.
But an inspection team found that most of the wetland actually has an access to proper irrigation channel. The team also found that the wetland had high potential for paddy cultivation.
“Some have applied for conversion, but most applicants have already built houses,” gup Kinzang Wangdi said.
The dzongkhag tshogdu has decided to form a committee to investigate and check illegal construction on agriculture wetland. “After investigating the illegal constructions, we’d send the defaulters to court,” DT chairman, Kinzang Dorji said.
Trashigang dzongda, Lungten Dorji said the dzongkhag would prevent new constructions on wetland and take legal action against those who have already breached the law.
Land record officer Sigye Dorji said the land act of 2007 prohibits construction on wetland and that permission has to be sought from the national land commission before constructing on wetlands. “Except for people without dry land, no conversion of wetland is allowed,” Sigye Dorji said.
The district’s land record office has submitted a detailed report about the illegal construction to the agriculture ministry, but has not received a response from the ministry yet.
But the dzongkhag administration said that illegal constructions on wetland are “getting out of control” in gewogs. “If we don’t check illegal construction on wetlands from now on, we might end up without wetlands in some years,” Dzongda Lungten Dorji said.
Lungten Dorji said the existing problem of illegal construction is also because of lapses on gewogs and agriculture extension agents.
“The dzongkhag can’t be everywhere in 15 gewogs to check such illegal activities and gewog officials have to be vigilant,” Lungten Dorji said, adding that gups and agriculture extension officers have failed to intervene and stop these constructions from the start.
“Now we can’t stop the others, because even they wouldn’t abide since we have already allowed many,” Lungten Dorji said.
Dzongkhag agriculture officials however said that the defaulters, who have built houses on wetland in Rangjung, are those who are well versed with the law.
“They’ve constructed houses deliberately on wetland,” senior agriculture extension supervisor Tshering Dorji said, adding that defaulters entailed serious legal action, including bulldozing of the houses.
Meanwhile, officials pointed out that home minister also constructed a couple of his resort’s structures on wetland in Lengkhar, about seven kilometres from Trashigang. “I think one or two of the structures have been built on wetland,” an official said under anonymity.
He said that the land hasn’t been converted, because it is still reflected as wetland in the thram. “We also haven’t received any letter for conversion either,” he said.
By Tempa Wangdi, T/gang